The women and men of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) observe African American History Month throughout February to celebrate the achievements of their fellow citizens and the vital parts they have played in the history of the United States. The commemorative month is now considered the nation’s oldest organized historic celebration, and ICE honors the important contributions to the agency by African-Americans since its earliest iterations.
An early contribution to our mission is that of David Augustus Straker. One of the many challenges facing the United States during Reconstruction – the years following the conclusion of the American Civil War – was the abolition of slavery and the sudden freedom of a population that numbered nearly four million according to the 1860 Census. What began with President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 was codified by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two years later in January 1865.
Answering the call for a sudden and urgent need for formal education throughout the south, Straker left his native Barbados in 1868, arriving in Kentucky to teach at a freedmen’s school. After one year he left for Washington, D.C., where he continued his own education at Howard University, earning a law degree in 1871 and beginning a career with the Treasury Department, where he joined as a clerk in the auditing office.
Four years later, Straker moved to South Carolina where he accepted a position as Inspector of Customs in the port city of Charleston, making the attorney and future state representative one of the first men of color to serve in the legacy agencies of ICE.
ICE continues to promote and recognize African American History Month with internal observances and events, as well as partnerships with organizations such as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), which promotes diversity, recruitment and retention, and community outreach within law enforcement.